Promising Potentials of Virtual Reality in Higher Education
By Robert Parmer
While virtual reality has been around for decades, new visions for a virtual world are now becoming realistic. The term virtual reality was coined by Jaron Lanier in the 1980’s, although other terms for describing the concept such as “artificial reality,” and “virtual worlds” have existed previously.
Virtual reality involves a couple of main components: an immersive headset that blocks out the real world to an extent, and an interface such as a computer or smartphone. The view from within a VR headset is stereoscopic, meaning it features a left and right screen–one for each eye. Headsets are more affordable than ever, with quality VR gear already going for less than $100.
Odds are that virtual reality isn’t immediately what you think of in regards to higher education. However, it’s becoming more relevant than ever.
Online learning has certainly changed the scope of education in recent years, allowing students to partake in distance learning–a modern phenomenon. It’s now possible for people to work when and where they want to. But what if it were possible to learn in an immersive classroom environment, without ever having to actually step foot into a classroom?
Online learning has been viewed as a double-edged sword by many students, especially those who desire engaging, face-to-face contact with their professors. With the use of virtual reality, virtual classrooms are becoming increasingly more feasible for students. This means that the days of emailing a question to a profession and patiently awaiting a response are over.
Without leaving the comfort their bedrooms and pajamas, students will be able attend classes as an avatar: a slightly simulated version of themselves. What sets this apart from typical distance learning is that virtual classrooms aren’t limited by webcams. Students will be able to virtually raise their hands to ask questions, take part in more hands-on virtual experiments, and even walk around a simulated classroom if they choose.
Most people are familiar with VR and its applications to video games, but it’s by no means limited to gaming applications. The fact stands: people’s interest have been truly sparked by virtual reality, and it’s becoming more and more popular. The industry is expected to be worth $30 billion by 2020.
Virtual reality will be extremely relevant to hands-on 3D models that could very well replace the cliche frog dissection experiment forever. This will save resources and will prove to be much less wasteful.
For example, envision a virtual woodworking shop. When learning the ropes of woodworking, there’s obviously going to be a lot of associated waste and danger. It’s a byproduct of error and coming to understand the detailed processes that make up the job. Imagine if while learning how to create beautifully crafted pieces of furniture, a carpenter could opt out of using real materials until they were well-versed in foundational techniques.
Now take that concept and adapt it to a medical student. Rather than working with cadavers and other expensive or difficult-to-access educational tools, simulated alternatives through VR will be much less wasteful and easier to attain.
A graphic by Knewton tilted The Gamification of Education defines gamification as “the use of game design elements in non-game contexts.”
It also points out that “Game players regularly exhibit persistence, attention to detail, and problem solving, all behaviors that ideally would be regularly demonstrated in school.”
While video games are considered by many to be a waste of time, new ways of engraining gamification into learning challenges the idea that all video games turn brains to mush. Gamification is the concept of using video games as an educational tool. It can be incentive-based, or simply introduce ideas that are being studied through video games.
This approach resonates well with many students. It creates an enjoyable, atmospheric learning environment. Learning through gaming feels less forced and more enjoyable to many students.
Simulated “Field Trips”
The distance that separates college students from visiting the most captivating places in the world is no longer a pitfall for students and their finances. Google Cardboard is a very inexpensive way for college students to experience VR for the first time. With a price tag of less than $20 and a design that is economic and simple to use, Google Cardboard turns any smartphone into a virtual reality interface.
Traveling is expensive, that much is certain. By using VR for virtual touring, simple smartphone rigs can be turned into immersive headsets that allow students to take part in advanced tours and intricate virtual trips. Imagine if an archeology students could take part in a virtual dig, or if someone studying wildlife conservation efforts was able to see affected areas without ever leaving their home.
The next few years are a pivotal timeframe for virtual reality, as it will continue to rapidly expand. This short amount of time will tell; as VR continues to integrate itself into our education and our everyday lives.
Robert Parmer is a freelance web writer and student of Boise State University. Outside of writing and reading adamantly he enjoys creating and recording music, caring for his pet cat, and commuting by bicycle whenever possible. Follow him on Twitter @robparmer